Friday, March 11, 2005

The Rebuilding of Montserrat, 7:
Unsafe, SafER, SafEST
GEM 05:03:09a.1

Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing the HIV/AIDS crisis in Montserrat and the wider Caribbean, in light of a recent survey of students in the MSS. This survey reveals that the HIV/AIDS crisis has the potential to decimate a whole generation of our young people, if we continue with "business as usual."

For, it is clear that many of our young people -- and indeed many of our adult population, too -- indulge in very unsafe sexual habits: promiscuity, "unprotected sex"; even sex in exchange for money, favours, or even something as simple as a phone card. Such practices simply invite the spread of HIV/AIDS and the dozens of other devastating sexually transmissible diseases; some of which are almost as worrisome as AIDS -- e.g. Human Papilloma Virus [HPV], which is a leading, strongly suspected cause of cervical cancer. (According to available statistics, this cancer has killed more women in the USA than AIDS has. Moreover, while HPV is so contagious that it is reportedly the commonest STD in the USA, condoms provide little defense against it. HPV is thus very politically incorrect; so it is, by and large, a silent plague.)

Now, last week, Nurses Buffonge and Skerritt kindly helped us to look at the need for safER sexual practices: the use of latex condoms [Ed. note: and of dental dams], which act as barriers to the exchange of body fluids that can carry the HIV virus. We also saw that in Uganda, thanks to a strong intervention by the President and many leaders of that country through their ABC campaign -- Abstinence if single, Being Faithful to one's spouse, using Condoms if one insists on risky behaviour -- they were able to stem the tide of the AIDS epidemic there.

Thus, we can see from the implications of the silent HPV epidemic and the Uganda HIV/AIDS success story just how sound, practical and effective the 2,000 year old biblical principle of safEST sex is:

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." [Heb. 13:4; cf. Matt. 19:3 - 11, Eph. 4:17 - 24, Rom. 13:8 - 10, & Matt. 11:19b.]

So, as we continue to reflect on the HIV/AIDS and broader STD epidemics, we should recognise the direct relevance of an even older (and just as politically incorrect!) biblical principle:

"And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" [Deut. 10:12 - 13]

In short, our Creator has set moral limits on our behaviour for our own good, and the consequences of ignoring these limits can be devastating indeed. Thus, it is no surprise that the rapid spread of dozens of destructive STDs is due to the unhealthy implications of sexual immorality and associated promiscuity and perversion. Having said that, it is equally true that none of us is without guilt, so instead of casting the first stone, let us now consider how we can promote a return to wiser behaviour, and reach out with compassion to the victims of these diseases.

A good place to begin is with some recent remarks by the Rev. Gerry Seale of the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean, made at the Congress of Evangelicals in the Caribbean, which was held last month. In this presentation, Bro Gerry highlights AIDS as the number one emerging issue that the church in the region will have to confront, based on evidence that strongly suggests that sinful, unsafe sexual behaviour is rife across the region, within the churches as well as in the wider community-- so that there are already over half a million victims of HIV/AIDS in our region.

Such trends mean that we will increasingly have to deal with more and more victims of this disease, and will have to break out of the all-too-common sinful attitude of self-righteous condemnation. Instead, we should demonstrate the power of God to overcome bondage to sinful, unsafe sexual habits, and to enable us to reach out compassionately and effectively to our relatives, church members, friends and fellow citizens who have become victims of this latter-day plague.

Plainly, through the wisdom and power of God, we need to move on from unsafe, to safer or -- even better -- safest behaviour; and, we need to reach out in practical love and caring to those who will (or already have) become victims of these deadly diseases. So now, let's talk. AMEN

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